Sunday, October 31, 2010

Picking a Poppy

I never really think that I have much success with listening to God when it comes to moving in the prophetic. Give me a Bible, a week to seek out a verse and a partner to share my thoughts with and I am fine. Fill a table with a selection of objects, ask me to pick one that I think God may be using to say something that will encourage a partner and I am a little out of my comfort zone.

My partner was a young lad of primary school age and a Calley Thistle supporter. He picked up a poppy from the table. It wasn’t what I would have picked for myself, and I wasn’t sure that he knew what he was supposed to do with the poppy…but the results turned out to be really surprising.

It has been a while since we have had a world war and many of the up and coming generation have little idea about two minute silences and wearing poppies…and my partner was no exception. He knew you wore them in the lapel of a jacket but he wasn’t sure why.

We talked about battles and wars. We talked about fighting to protect freedom. We talked about lots of people loosing their lives in the wars to protect the freedom of their friends and families.

“Not all fights are physical ones,” I went on to say. “Sometimes you have to fight with yourself, not to loose your temper with someone who is being nasty to you. Sometimes you have to fight with yourself to do the best you can and not be lazy. The Bible says that being a Christian is like being in the fight – fighting against evil and standing up for good.”

We both agreed that sometimes school can be a bit of a battle ground. The poppy is a reminder about wars fought…and we are also in a war, on the side of God, against the enemy, Satan.

“Where do you wear a poppy?” I asked.

“Over your heart!” was the answer.

There seemed little point in buying a poppy if you weren’t going to wear it. It was no use putting in your pocket, or in a drawer in the desk. It has to be worn so that people know that you are supporting the cause –that you are remembering the soldiers who died in the wars. We talked about Jesus.

It seemed to us that there was little point in becoming a Christian if you were not going to do anything with your faith. It wasn’t something you could hide in a pocket or a drawer, but people should be able to see something of your faith demonstrated in your daily life. Wearing your faith over your heart was about being open about what you believed and letting people know that Jesus mattered.

Finally, we thought about Jesus dying. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus we have been given the gift of freedom. Jesus paid the price for our freedom. Sometimes we forget that we are free and we live our lives as if we weren’t. We forget that through Jesus we have been forgiven. We don’t have to try to pay God back for anything, or earn His love …but enjoy it.

I forget sometimes that I am called to fight a good fight.

I forget sometimes that my faith needs to be active and on display

I forget sometimes that my freedom was won at a price and it is essential that I walk in it.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Eat a Grey, Save a Red

There must be a list of things that you just wouldn’t eat. In terms of “normal” food, I am not sure that I would want to eat frog’s legs, or snails, although other people have no qualms. I don’t like shell fish, although I confess my experience is based on pickled cockles and mussels (alive, alive, oh!) When it comes to the more outrageous stuff, I can’t imagine myself, for instance, eating any kind of bug – fried, boiled, baked or moving. I certainly can’t imagine myself eating someone. You know that you get these stories where the plane crashes in the mountains, miles from anywhere, deep snow in all directions and, since some folks died in the crash anyway, and you’ve ran out of pre-packed plane meals courtesy of “Cuisine al la Clouds”, the next step seems to be eat the dead people or die.

I came across something else I probably wouldn’t eat the other week. Rugby, a market town in Warwickshire, still manages to boast of an open air market. It has downsized over the decades to just a few select stalls. One of the stalls was a cake stall – delicious looking cupcakes at £1.25 a shot.

One stall was a pie stall. Melton Mowbray isn’t so far away, so pork pies featured heavily. There were other kinds of pies – pigeon pies, pheasant pies, beef and ale pies and such like. In the centre of the table were squirrel pies. They looked harmless enough, nothing to tell you that Peter Rabbit’s pal, Squirrel Nutkin was skinned and quartered, braised with vegetables and encased in pastry.

Grey squirrels are hardly on the brink of extinction – but pie filling? Is this a step too far? The stall holder didn’t think so. He didn’t confess to having eaten one, but he rattled off on his fingers the numbers of squirrel pies that he had sold each day at the market. He wasn’t swamped with orders, but there was sufficient demand from the squirrel eaters in Rugby to make it worth his while.

It was the advertising slogan that caught our attention – “Eat a Grey, Save a Red.”

A Lament for Squirrel Nutkin

Little Peter Rabbit had a very special friend
But poor old Squirrel Nutkin met a nasty sticky end
An enterprising baker with a greedy little eye
Murdered Squirrel Nutkin and put him in a pie

(Actually Squirrel Nutkin would be safe from pie making bakers on account that he is a red squirrel, not a grey one.)

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Floozy Hexx and the Car Wash

“For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.” 2 Timothy 1:7

Maybe God didn’t give us a spirit of timidity, but very often we clothe ourselves in one.

Once upon a time I used to be brave. I wouldn’t say that I have ever been really brave. There has always been a tinge of the coward about me, and although I have done some quite brave things, deep down inside, I have been quaking. Maybe what makes a really brave action is not about whether you were scared or not, but whether despite the fear you still went ahead and did it anyway.

Maybe it’s an age thing, that as you get older you get less brave. Maybe you are more aware of your limitations. I have some very young friends who are very versatile. One of them, who goes to ballet classes, can wrap her legs around her head, maybe not quite comfortably, but she can do it. I am not sure that I have ever been that flexible. I know for sure that if I tried to do it today – well, the imagination will not stretch that far…and neither will either of the legs!

Yesterday Joe and I took proud possession of a new car. It wasn’t brand new, just new to us. The last car was limping towards retirement.

Floozy Hexx is a three year old, Phantom Blue Mazda 3. Joe christened her using the various letters of the number plate. It has been a while since we have named our car. In fact the only one we named was the very first one – Austin. He was an Austin Maestro so it wasn’t that creative a name.

We collected Floozy yesterday from the garage. We handed over a selection of cards of various savings accounts, punched in the pin numbers and drove her out of the salesroom car park.

The salesman has assured us that she had been cleaned up, but it had been a windy day so she was looking a little dusty. We have this thing about making resolutions to look after cars better when we buy them. It lasts for a while. I am not car-savvy and Joe is not car-savvy either. We don’t tinker with stuff under the bonnet and wipe oil stained hands on oily rags. Incidentally the salesman was just a little annoying. When I asked him if I could have a look under the bonnet, he kind of made noises and said, “That’s our domain, dearie. We look after what goes on under the bonnet!”

We decided to take Floozy to the car wash. It was one of those jet wash things, playing with water and soapy brushes. However, the woman behind the counter gave us the wrong kind of ticket and we had to drive through a proper car wash thing. This is something I would never choose to do. It is all a little too precise for me, lining things up, and stopping exactly where they tell you to stop. Just give me a bucket of water and sponge and a squeeze of cleaning liquid.

It was a most unpleasant experience. I know there was a windscreen between me and these huge brushes that swept back and forward, but it was just too near. It’s not as if you can get out at any point and take a deep breath of fresh air. There is no pause button to push – just these manic brushes encasing the car.

Floozy was clean by the end of it, but it took a while for me to recover. The half pint of lager in the nearest pub was purely medicinal!

It made me think about how being fearful can really make our personal world small. There could be so many things that we never do, or try to do, simply because we are afraid.

This doesn’t mean that I am going to take up extreme sports or go bungee jumping off cliffs or high bridges – but I think I might take Floozy through the car wash again!

Friday, October 01, 2010


I shall never look at church buildings in quite the same way I used to.

I have been carefully following a series of programmes on BBC 4 “Churches: How to Read Them.” I know that many Christians are reluctant to think of church in terms of church buildings, but I like church buildings.

The presenter is an architect and looks at the buildings from an architectural standpoint. He looks at the details of the buildings that most of us don’t really see unless someone points it out to us, inside and out. So much of what Christians have believed in the past is incorporated into the actual architecture itself. It is not just a place where Christians meet and worship – like any community hall. Just as a painting might be displayed to better effect in a particular frame, the people of God can also be displayed to a better effect in a building that echoes their heart of worship.

I have a rich tapestry of church buildings in my faith history. One that sticks out in my mind is a small Methodist chapel in an equally small village called Middleton-One-Row. It is a two mile walk from Teeside Airport. The teacher training college I attended was Middleton-St-George just at the end of the runway.

I made my commitment to Christ at the age of 18, the summer before heading off the college. I wasn’t really planted and nurtured into any particular denomination and drifted for a while. I was beginning to really lose touch with God and decided I needed to act before my baby-faith died of starvation. I started to attend this little Methodist chapel in the village two miles away. My best friend at the chapel was a little old lady in her sixties or seventies – a real dot of a woman. She was a lovely woman of God and took me home to lunch every Sunday.

What I remember of the chapel was the front wall. There might have been windows on either side of a panel, but the focus of attention was on a mural from top to bottom. The memory isn’t what it should be so describing the picture is beyond me. I have seen murals since then and they all get mixed up in the brain. I’m fairly sure there wasn’t a cross. There might have been a dove. It was uplifting. It drew the eye and focussed the heart.

There is a sense in which worship should be stimulated not just by an inner mindset but by something on the outside too. I appreciate that there could be much on the outside that distracts and perhaps even takes the place of the One we worship – but that doesn’t have to be the case.

I am digressing. The presenter is working his way through the ages. He did the Reformation last week. He moved on to new buildings at the time being constructed to reflect the beliefs of different denominations.

He was in a Baptist Church and introducing the viewer to the baptistery – the space that gets filled with water for adult immersion. He is not a believer himself, but he said that he felt compelled to take off his shoes to go down the steps into the baptistery – empty at the time. While he was descending, he was explaining about the sense of the old nature being put to death and being buried. He explained the rising out of the water as embracing a new life, being a new creation. There was almost this sense of awe and wonder and mystery as he talked.

Too often I am surrounded by people who do not share my faith. Maybe it is because they are young people, but they don’t seem yet to have acquired the ability to see that even though they might not share my beliefs, they have value to me. There is often little respect shown for what they have labelled as superstitious nonsense.

I suppose it is a challenge to me too. It makes me consider how I would present a programme about mosques, or Hindu temples. Even though I may not share their beliefs, would I still demonstrate respect when talking about those beliefs and the people who hold them?

It was nice to watch the programme where the presenter, not a man of faith himself, wasn’t there to demolish and undermine a person’s faith. I found joy in all the little details of the different churches – because he passed on his joy in those things.